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Rights of British National (Overseas) Passport Holders

Volume 666: debated on Thursday 24 October 2019

The petition of Residents of the UK of Hong Kong origins,

Declares that the rights of British National (Overseas) passport holders should be reviewed; notes that over 150,000 BN(O) passport holders in Hong Kong and China are unable to access British consular assistance and request diplomatic protection despite the deteriorating state of human rights and rule of law in Hong Kong; further that citizens of British Hong Kong were issued the BN(O) passport without the right of abode in the UK as a political compromise with the Chinese government prior to the 1997 handover, instead of being given British citizenship as is the case for citizens of other former British colonies; further that these British nationals still feel proud of their ties with the UK and share British values; further that many highly educated and skilled BN(O) passport holders studying and working in the UK under Tiers 4 and 5 visas are unable to remain and contribute the UK economy and society; and further that a petition on behalf of a group of 240 BNO passport holders and their families have received over 3000 signatures.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to carry out an urgent review of the rights of British National (Overseas) passport holders, addressing the need for these passport holders in Hong Kong and China to be access British consular assistance and request diplomatic protection in view of the ongoing political situation in Hong Kong, and allowing BN(O) passport holders with Tiers 4 and 5 visas to be given routes to residency in the UK.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Steve Double, Official Report, 10 July 2019; Vol. 663, c. 410.]


British Nationals (Overseas) (BN(O)s) are eligible to travel to the United Kingdom visa-free, for a visit of up to six months. They can seek to reside here under study, economic or family routes, and can also settle here if they meet the requirements of the immigration rules. They are treated in the same way as any individual who is subject to immigration control.

The right of abode in the United Kingdom exempts the holder from any restrictions of immigration control, and primary legislation sets out who has that right. Since 1983, it has only been acquired by those who also acquire British citizenship. Ministers do not have discretion to grant British citizenship outside of primary legislation, and there are currently no plans to amend the law in this respect.

In his 2007 Review of Citizenship, Lord Goldsmith recognised that to give BN(O)s full British citizenship automatically would be a breach of the commitments made between China and the UK in the 1984 Joint Declaration on the future of Hong Kong, and that to secure Chinese agreement to vary the terms of that treaty would not be possible.

However, BN(0)s can be registered as British citizens in certain circumstances:

If a person lives in the United Kingdom for a period of five years, and meets the specified residence requirements, they can apply for registration under section 4(2) of the British Nationality Act 1981. Those applying under this section are not required to demonstrate the knowledge of English and knowledge of life in the United Kingdom requirements, and so are not required to pass the Life in the UK test or have an English language qualification in the same way as those applying for naturalisation.

The British Nationality Hong Kong Act 1997 also provides for the registration of British nationals who would otherwise be stateless and are ordinarily resident in Hong Kong.

BN(O)s can also apply for registration under section 4B of the 1981 Act if they do not have another citizenship or nationality.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office can provide consular assistance to BN(0)s living or travelling outside China, Hong Kong or the Macao special administrative regions. However, we cannot help BN(O)s of Chinese ethnic origin in China, Hong Kong and Macao. This is because Chinese authorities consider BN(O)s of Chinese ethnic origin as Chinese nationals, and as Chinese authorities do not recognise dual nationality they are unable to access British consular assistance.

We continue to believe that the best solution for Hong Kong, and the BN(O) passport holders that live there, is full respect for the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Sino-British joint declaration.